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Courts in the United Kingdom

Courts in the United Kingdom

Posted by matt-terrell | 19 January 2010

Q – What is the hierarchy of courts in the United Kingdom?

A – The court system in England and Wales can be considered as consisting of 5 levels:

 

There is a similar court system in Northern Ireland and a different court system in Scotland.

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the court of final appeal for Commonwealth countries that have retained appeals to either Her Majesty in Council or to the Judicial Committee. It is also the court of final appeal for the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland for issues related to devolution. Some functions of the Judicial Committee were taken over by the new Supreme Court in 2009.

Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords)

In 2009 the Supreme Court replaced the House of Lords as the highest court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As with the House of Lords, the Supreme Court hears appeals from the Court of Appeal and the High Court (only in exceptional circumstances). It also hears appeals from the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland. Appeals are normally heard by 5 Justices (formerly Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, or Law Lords), but there can be as many as 9.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal consists of 2 divisions, the Criminal Division and the Civil Decision. Decisions of the Court of Appeal may be appealed to the Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords).

Civil Division

The Civil Division of the Court of Appeal hears appeals concerning civil law and family justice from the High Court, from Tribunals, and certain cases from the County Courts.

Criminal Division

The Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal hears appeals from the Crown Court.

High Court

The High Court consists of 3 divisions, the Chancery Division, the Family Division, and the Queen’s Bench Division. Decisions of the High Court may be appealed to the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal.

Chancery Division: Companies Court

The Companies Court of the Chancery Division deals with cases concerning commercial fraud, business disputes, insolvency, company management, and disqualification of directors.

Chancery Division: Divisional Court

The Divisional Court of the Chancery Division deals with cases concerning equity, trusts, contentious probate, tax partnerships, bankruptcy and land.

Chancery Division: Patents Court

The Patents Court of the Chancery Division deals with cases concerning intellectual property, copyright, patents and trademarks, including passing off.

Family Division: Divisional Court

The Divisional Court of the Family Division deals with all matrimonial matters, including custody of children, parentage, adoption, family homes, domestic violence, separation, annulment, divorce and medical treatment declarations, and with uncontested probate matters.

Queen’s Bench Division: Administrative Court

The Administrative Court of the Queen’s Bench Division hears judicial reviews, statutory appeals and application, application for habeas corpus, and applications under the Drug Trafficking Act 1984 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988. It also oversees the legality of decisions and actions of inferior courts and tribunals, local authorities, Ministers of the Crown, and other public bodies and officials.

Queen’s Bench Division: Admiralty Court

The Admiralty Court of the Queen’s Bench Division deals with shipping and maritime disputes, including collisions, salvage, carriage of cargo, limitation, and mortgage disputes. The Court can arrest vessels and cargoes and sell them within the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

Queen’s Bench Division: Commercial Court

The Commercial Court of the Queen’s Bench Division deals with cases arising from national and international business disputes, including international trade, banking, commodities, and arbitration disputes.

Queen’s Bench Division: Mercantile Court

The Mercantile Court of the Queen’s Bench Division deals with national and international business disputes that involve claims of lesser value and complexity than those heard by the Commercial Court.

Queen’s Bench Division: Technology and Construction Court

The Technology and Construction Court of the Queen’s Bench Division is a specialist court that deals principally with technology and construction disputes that involve issues or questions which are technically complex, and with cases where a trial by a specialist TCC judge is desirable.

County Courts

The County Courts deal with all except the most complicated and the most simple civil cases (including most matters under the value of £5000), such as claims for repayment of debts, breach of contract involving goods or property, personal injury, family issues (including adoption and divorce), housing issues (including recovery of mortgage and rent arrears, and re-possession), and enforcement of previous County Court judgments. Cases are heard by a judge, without a jury. Decisions of the County Courts may be appealed to the appropriate Division of the High Court.

Crown Court

The Crown Court deals with indictable criminal cases that have been transferred from the Magistrates’ Courts, including hearing of serious criminal cases (such as murder, rape and robbery), cases sent for sentencing, and appeals. Cases are heard by a judge and a jury. Decisions of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

Magistrates’ Courts

The Magistrates’ Courts deal with summary criminal cases and committals to the Crown Court, with simple civil cases including family proceedings courts and youth courts, and with licensing of betting, gaming and liquor. Cases are normally heard by either a panel of 3 magistrates or by a District Judge, without a jury. Criminal decisions of the Magistrates’ Courts may be appealed to the Crown Court. Civil decisions may be appealed to the County Courts.

Tribunals Service

The Tribunals Service makes decisions on matters including asylum, immigration, criminal injuries compensation, social security, education, employment, child support, pensions, tax and lands. Decisions of the Tribunals Service may be appealed to the appropriate Division of the High Court.

More information about the Supreme Court More information about the Court of Appeal More information about the Criminal Division More information about the Civil Division More information about the High Court More information about the Administrative Court More information about the Admiralty Court More information about the Commercial Court More information about the Queen's Bench Division More information about the Patents Court More information about the Companies Court More information about the Family Division More information about the Chancery Division More information about the Chancery Divisional Court More information about the Crown Court More information about the County Courts More information about the Magistrates' Courts More information about the Tribunals Service

Court Structure of Her Majesty’s Courts Service

Click the name of a court to see more information about it.

The Court Structure of Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS) - Crown copyright

Diagram reproduced from Her Majesty’s Courts Service – Structure of HMCS
Crown copyright

Further information

 Her Majesty’s Courts Service
 Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
 Tribunals Service

 

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Justis FAQs – Courts in Scotland

Q – What is the hierarchy of courts in Scotland?

A – The court system in Scotland can be considered as consisting of 4 levels:

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

In addition to its role as the court of final appeal for Commonwealth countries, the Judicial Committee is also the court of final appeal for the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland. Some functions of the Judicial Committee were taken over by the new Supreme Court in 2009.

Supreme Court

In addition to its role as the highest court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Supreme Court also hears appeals from the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland.

Court of Session

The Court of Session is the supreme civil court for Scotland, and serves both as a court of first instance and as a court of appeal. The Court of Session consists of 2 houses, the Inner House and the Outer House.

Inner House

The Inner House of the Court of Session mainly deals with appeals, though it also deals with a small range of first instance business. Appeals are heard from the Outer House, from the Sheriff Court, and from certain tribunals and other bodies. Appeals are heard by at least 3 judges, without a jury. Decisions of the Inner House may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Outer House

The Outer House hears cases at first instance on a wide range of civil matters, including tort, contract, intellectual property, commercial cases and judicial review. Cases are presided over by a judge, when appropriate with a civil jury. Decisions of the Outer House may be appealed to the Inner House.

High Court of Justiciary

The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court for Scotland, and serves both as a court of first instance and as a court of appeal. When sitting as a court of first instance, the Court deals only with the most serious crimes such as murder, rape, culpable homicide, armed robbery, drug trafficking and serious sexual offences, particularly those involving children, and cases are tried by a judge and a jury. When sitting as an appellate court, the court consists of at least 2 judges, without a jury. Decisions of the High Court of Justiciary that concern devolution may be appealed to the Privy Council; there is no right of appeal for any other matters.

Sheriff Courts

The Sheriff Courts deal with more serious criminal cases than the District Courts, but not with the most serious ones, which are heard in the High Court of Justiciary. The Sheriff Courts also deal with civil matters such as probate, adoption and bankruptcy; the most serious civil cases are heard by the Outer House of the Court of Session. Cases are presided over by a judge, with a jury when appropriate. Civil decisions may be appealed to the Sheriff Principal and then to the Outer House of the Court of Session. Criminal decisions may be appealed to the High Court of Justiciary.

District Courts

District Courts deal only with summary criminal matters such as breach of the peace, assault, vandalism, theft, speeding, vehicle excise, television licensing and electricity fraud. Cases are tried by one or 3 Justices of the Peace, or by one stipendiary magistrate, without a jury. More serious cases are tried in the Sheriff Courts or in the High Court of Justiciary. District Courts will be replaced by Justice of the Peace Courts in 2007.

Further information

 Scottish Court Service

 

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Justis FAQs – Courts in Northern Ireland

Q – What is the hierarchy of courts in Northern Ireland?

A – The court system in Northern Ireland can be considered as consisting of 5 levels:

Supreme Court

In addition to its role as the highest court in England, Wales and Scotland, the Supreme Court also hears appeals from the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal deals with appeals in civil cases from the High Court and with appeals in criminal cases from the Crown Court. It also hears appeals on points of law from the County Courts and the Magistrates’ Courts. Cases are normally heard by 3 judges, without a jury. Decisions of the Court of Appeal may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

High Court

The High Court consists of 3 divisions, the Chancery Division, the Family Division, and the Queen’s Bench Division. These courts hear complex or important civil cases, and also hear appeals from the County Courts. Cases are heard by a judge, almost always without a jury. Decisions of the High Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Chancery Division

The Chancery Division hears cases involving trusts and estates, title to land, mortgages and charges, wills and companies.

Family Division

The Family Division hears cases involving matrimony, adoption, children in care and undisputed wills.

Queen’s Bench Division

The Queen’s Bench Division deals with most other civil law matters.

County Courts

The County Courts deal primarily with civil cases, including most matters under a specified value, and with title to land, recovery of land, equity matters (such as trusts and estates), mortgages, sale of land and partnerships, negligence and trespass. The County Courts also hear appeals from the Magistrates’ Courts in both civil and criminal cases. Cases are heard by a County Court judge, without a jury. Decisions of the County Courts may be appealed to the appropriate Division of the High Court.

Crown Court

The Crown Court deals with all serious criminal matters. Cases that involve terrorism are heard by a judge without a jury. Cases that do not involve terrorism are heard by a judge with a 12-person jury. Serious cases are presided over by a High Court judge, and lesser cases are presided over by a County Court judge. Decisions of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Magistrates’ Courts

The Magistrates’ Courts hears all criminal cases. Serious criminal cases are transferred to the Crown Court after a preliminary hearing. Less serious cases criminal cases and those involving juveniles are tried in these courts. Some civil cases, including family proceedings, are also heard in these courts. Cases are presided over by one magistrate, who is legally qualified. Both civil and criminal decisions of the Magistrates’ Courts may be appealed to the County Courts.

Further information

 Northern Ireland Court Service

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